NEW YORK — Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist spent a lot of time before Friday's Game 4 walking around and "soul searching."
The 2012 Vezina Trophy winner was stunned after giving up six goals in back-to-back games for the second time in his Hall-of-Fame-caliber career. Lundqvist knew he had to bounce back against the Lightning in the Eastern Conference final, and he did brilliantly in a 5-1 victory, racking up 38 saves, 18 coming in a second period that Tampa Bay dominated.
"That's when our goaltender stood up," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said, "and made a stand."
Now it's Ben Bishop's turn. Sure, it's unfair to blame the Lightning goaltender completely for Friday's result, which evened the best-of-seven series at 2 heading into tonight Game 5 at Madison Square Garden. There was a fluky goal by defenseman Keith Yandle, which was heading 10 feet wide of the net before going in off Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman's right leg. Bishop didn't have much of a chance on Marty St. Louis' power-play goal in the third, a one-timer from the slot. Teammates said they could have played better defense in front of him.
But the bottom line is Bishop has allowed five goals in back-to-back games for the first time since 2011, and that's not good enough if the Lightning wants to reach the Stanley Cup final.
"It's pretty upsetting when you give up 10 goals in two games," said Bishop, who got the Game 3 win when the Lightning won 6-5 in overtime. "I felt pretty good, but some of those, you've got to make a save here or there."
Bishop was a difference-maker in each of the first two playoff series. That's why teammates call him their MVP and backbone. When Tampa Bay trailed 3-2 in the first round to the Red Wings, Bishop won two straight games, including a shutout in Game 7. In the conference semifinal, when Tampa Bay appeared wobbly after losing two straight to the Canadiens, Bishop shut the door in Game 6, eliminating them.
"There's a brighter light on him, and all he's done is pass every test that gets sent his way," coach Jon Cooper said. "The tighter the game has got, the more pressure-packed the series got, Ben Bishop got better. You can't ask more than that."
This is another pivotal moment.
Though the Lightning controlled play often Friday, Cooper said "moral victories aren't going to get you to the Stanley Cup" and "we're giving up too many goals." The Rangers are dangerous and battle-tested; they've been to three conference finals in the past four years. Their top players, Rick Nash and St. Louis, are gaining confidence after their first goals of the series and playoffs, respectively, Friday. Lundqvist is back at the top of his game, and the Lightning needs to win at least one more at the Garden.
Cooper was asked Saturday if he would consider replacing Bishop with rookie goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. "That is asinine to me," he said.
Vigneault had a similar reaction when asked if Lundqvist would start Game 4, looking at reporters as if they had three heads. "I'll look at you like you had five heads," Cooper said. "How's that? No change."
Though Lundqvist appeared to question everything after his two rough games, from his positioning to his reaction time, Bishop appears unfazed, his confidence still strong.
"Absolutely," said Bishop, who is 10-7 with a 2.21 goals-against average in his first postseason. "(Game 4) could have been a different result. There were a couple lucky bounces and a couple saves that I'd like to make. But it's a long season. You never like to give up five goals back to back. But the best part is we've got another game."